Hapter Berday Daddy!

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Monday was Dan’s birthday.  Sadly, Dan’s birthdays have fallen into a pathetic pattern over the past few years, which goes like this:

1. Plan special yummy dinner
2. Plan special (probably expensive) healthy dessert
3. Try to buy a gift he’ll like
4. Be disappointed by a dinner that was not as good as anyone had hoped
5. Be disappointed by gifts that he didn’t really want
6. Be disappointed by a dessert that did not taste good enough to justify the time or cost

This year was the year I decided to break the cycle. I think it worked.

For dinner, we used a gift card and bought Qdoba. Tried and true. For dessert, we bought some coconut milk vanilla ice cream and blended it up with peanut butter and a dash of maple syrup to make peanut butter milkshakes. Delicious. For gifts, I asked Dan for a list and then spent a few weeks trying to trick him into thinking he was getting a bunch of gifts not from his list. And now…for the pictures.

We started with the cards, of course.

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Now for the first present…

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This was a reenactment of his surprised and happy face. The original was much more authentic.

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Lydia likes it too!

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It helps with sore muscles, sort of like a massage. It hurts at the time but feels better afterward…what Dan refers to as “good pain”.

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Abby doesn’t know what she thinks about “good pain”.

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Neither do we. But we love him.

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A bow for Lydia!

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(Somehow I forgot to take pictures of the gifts we got him. Oops.)

What could this one be?

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A new keyboard!

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Dan’s new computer setup. He loves it. Now he won’t have to get a sore neck staring down into a computer screen all day long.

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Dan and his baby girl.

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And his big girl. She wished Dan a lot of “Hapter Berdays” all day long)

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And his favorite girl.

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Happy Birthday Dan! We love you!

Munchkin Update: 2 Years, 8 Months

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This month Lydia found her way into Mommy and Daddy’s closet.  There she found, not only some high-heel shoes, but all of Mom’s necklaces.  She promptly put them all on, along with the shoes, along with a pretty dress she had asked to wear earlier that morning.  Lydia loves dressing up.  She loves being pretty.  We’re just trying to teach her not to eat the dress up accessories!

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Every night Lydia asks Mommy or Daddy to lay down on the “green bed” with her. The sheets on her bed aren’t actually green right now. They’re striped blue and purple. However, the original sheets were green, and even when those aren’t the ones on the bed, it is still the “green bed”. Anyway, Lydia loves to snuggle up with Mom or Dad before going to sleep each night. In the morning, Dan lets Lydia sit on his lap and eat two crackers while listening to Adventures on Odyssey online. So, each night we excitedly tell her all that is in store for the coming day and she eagerly asks, “Odyssey!? TWO crackers!?!”.

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Lydia has also gotten quite excited about church and Hope Group (Bible study). Almost every day she asks, “Church?” and if the answer is a no, “Hope Group?”. She is learning to sit quietly through most of the “boring” stuff and then eagerly plays with her other little friends. She doesn’t really understand that it’s not always her turn to talk but we recently taught her what it means to close her mouth. So sometimes we tell her it’s time to “close your mouth” and she’ll make one of her “close mouth faces”. One of these faces is a closed mouth with teeth showing, a bit like a beaver. The other is, of course, sucking her thumb.

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Lydia loves to copy Mom and Dad. Whether it’s feeding her baby dolls, wearing Mom’s clothes, or standing next to us at church and singing along, Lydia loves to be like us. On Sunday Dan was holding Abby in a cradle hold during a meeting at church. Lydia was wearing a headband of mine that she found in the diaper bag. She finished “feeding” her doll and then started holding it with the doll’s head on Lydia’s shoulder. After a quick glance at Dad she rearranged her doll in a cradle hold, just like Abby. It melts my heart to see Lydia wanting to be like us, and is extra motivating for us to be good parents and model our lives the way we want Lydia to model hers.

Lydia also started potty training (again) yesterday, but I’ll hold off any of those updates until next week when it becomes more clear if she’s really ready.

Changes…for the Better

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When I was a little girl, I remember coming home from church and promptly going to our rooms as we announced, “I’m going to change”. We, of course, meant that we were going to change our clothes. But my dad would often respond, “Change for the better!” Well there have been changes happening around here lately, and they have all been for the better.

First of all, I know all parents think their babies are the cutest, as they ought to think. So I know I am completely biased, but, isn’t that the most adorable picture you’ve ever seen?

Abigail has been sleeping through the night all week. The first morning we wondered if something might be wrong with her. Lydia, despite half a million attempts to get her to sleep through the night, continued to get up once a night until she was almost two. Abby has been sleeping from about 10 until about 6 or 7. Lydia doesn’t know the difference. Mommy is thrilled. And Daddy might be just a little bit concerned (will she keep gaining weight now?). Abby is over nine pounds now, and continuing to grow at a satisfying rate.

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This kid is getting bigger and bigger, and her hair is (finally) getting longer and longer. The big change for her, though, is that we’re going to be attempting potty training starting on Monday. Our first potty training attempt didn’t work out, but we are hoping the past few months have prepared Lydia a little more. We’re stocking up on “potty books” from the library and we’ve been spending a little time each day this week praying that all will go well.

And now that Abby is sleeping through the night and we’re settling into our routine, I’ve actually been able to start getting things done. After calculating that I have about half an hour extra each day to do something profitable, I made a list of all the tasks that need to get done and asked Dan to prioritize them. We prayed about it but didn’t feel any one thing was more important than another, so I’m tackling them each one day of the week. It’s only half an hour a day, but it sure makes me feel great to make some progress on long-awaited projects.

Along with tackling those projects, I’ve begun my post-baby tradition of training for a 5K. After Lydia was born I actually trained and ran a 5K, but this year I’m just doing the training. Since the whole point is to give me a workout plan and get back in shape from months and months of sitting around, I didn’t feel it necessary to spend extra money on the race part this time.

So that’s us: sleeping through the night, potty training, exercising, and getting things done.

Why I’m not a Swaggernaut

 

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Perhaps you’ve never heard of SwagBucks. Perhaps you’ve heard, but never checked into it. Or, perhaps, you are an avid Swaggernaut yourself. I’ve read a lot of homemaking and money-saving blogs that rave about how much they love websites like swagbucks.com or inboxdollars.com (there are a number of other ones as well). But today I’m going to tell you why I don’t.

Edit: This post is intended to serve as a helpful resource for anyone who is looking for ways to earn some extra income, and who is considering doing so using money making sites such as SwagBucks or InboxDollars.

What is it?

For any who are not familiar, swagbucks.com is a website where you can make money by doing things like watching videos, searching the internet, or signing up for special offers. Some of this costs you money, but a lot of it is free. The first questions I had was, “Is this a scam?” The answer is: no, it’s actually not. You really can earn money just by clicking around on the swagbucks website. It works because it’s all a bunch of advertising. Videos, games, and emails are interspersed with tons of advertisements. Special offers allow you to earn “swagbucks” while signing up for free trials, e-newsletters, or taking surveys. Swagbucks is paid by the numerous advertisers, and users (or Swaggernauts) get a small portion of that cash. As you earn Swagbucks, you can trade them in for gift cards.

How I Heard about Swagbucks

A couple of years ago Dan and I were living on a tight budget. We had alloted a whopping $35 a week per groceries. However, once a week we hosted about eight teenage to mid-twenty year old guys who ate like…well teenage to mid-twenty year old guys! That meal alone took up almost a third of the week’s budget. So, I spent some time searching the internet, trying to find frugal recipes and ways to save money.

A couple of the recipes I found we still enjoy today. For a while, we were eating lentil shepherd’s pie once a week, and we often enjoy lentil tacos as well. Anyway…

In my searching I stumbled across the many blog posts explaining the wonders of swagbucks, and I thought I would try it out. Along with Swagbucks, I signed up for a handful of other similar websites. That lasted a few days before I gave up. I was earning money, but only a few pennies a day and it just felt like a waste of time.

Last summer I decided to try it again. I was hoping to earn money for Abby’s quilt and thought, if I could just make a dollar a day using a couple of different sites, I could earn the money before she was born. I chose Swagbucks.com and Inboxdollars.com.

How I used the Sites

At first I enjoyed the earning. It was fun to watch the bucks slowly build up toward my goal. I always started with the easy bucks: check in to the website, answer the daily poll, click through the no-obligation special offers. I automatically got a swagbuck every day for using the free toolbar. I’d click through videos throughout the day. I would do about five searches in between every few videos to be randomly awarded more swagbucks. I would try to qualify for one survey per day and I would search the special offers for easy free things I could complete.

My email began to fill up with junk. The toolbar was slowing down the whole computer. I struggled to qualify for the surveys. I got headaches from spending so much time staring at the computer screen. I realized I was spending less time with Lydia as I tried to get my whopping $1 a day. Some days I could reach it in half and hour. Other days, I still hadn’t reached it after a whole hour.

Then one day I thought a little. One swagbuck is equivalent to about one cent. I was torturing myself and neglecting my real responsibilities to earn less than $1 an hour. It was ridiculous. I persevered just long enough to get my first check from inbox dollars: $27.

Not Worth It

I know I’m probably going against the grain here, but I strongly believe being a Swaggernaut is not worth it. My husband whole-heartedly agrees. Time is too precious to squander it just to earn a few cents. There are dishes to wash, clothes to fold, books to read out loud, toys to play with, toddlers to snuggle, verses to memorize, songs to sing, and a million other things that are far more valuable than the change you can earn by doing (as they put it) “practically nothing”.

But We Need the Money

I know what it’s like to want just a few more dollars a week. I know what it’s like to think, “Oh, it would be so nice to have thirty extra dollars for Christmas presents”. Or to hope, “If I earn a gift card we could actually afford to go on a date!” But SwagBucks is not the answer.

May I recommend, investing a little of your time and resources in developing some other skill or trade? Learn to sew, make homemade cards, soap, or something else you can sell from home. Or, don’t make anything. Clean your cupboards, shelves, and storage spaces and sell all the things you don’t use. You will probably make more money, waste less time, and feel more accomplished.

When I gave up on SwagBucks, I used the bucks already saved to buy two violin books to start giving Dan violin lessons. At the time, I was hoping to start giving violin lessons from home after Abby was no longer a newborn. Since Abby is still a newborn (in size, at least) and since she still eats roughly every hour and a half, we’re waiting to reevaluate the violin lesson idea. The point is, if you are absolutely desperate, it’s not worth it to waste your time earning money on SwagBucks, but you could use it to get some seed money and then invest in something more profitable.

An Inbox Alternative

While I did quit SwagBucks and inbox dollars, for the most part, there’s one money-making tool I still use. Inbox dollars sends members “paid emails” a couple to a few times a day. When you view the email there’s a button at the bottom you click to confirm that you actually viewed it.

Now, it’s no fun clogging your email inbox with junk, so I let these emails go straight to my spam. Every few days I return to the inbox dollars website where there is an “inbox” just for the paid emails. So I let the emails build up for a short while, then I spend a little time clicking through the emails. If you wait too long, they’ll expire, so I just check back about once a week.

For the sake of this blog post I checked earlier than usual this week. It took me 26 seconds to go through 4 emails and earn 8 cents. Most of that time was getting to the website, so if I had waited (like I usually do) until I had more emails I would have earned more money in less time.

8 cents earned in 26 seconds comes out to earning just over $11 an hour. Someone earning $11 an hour and working 40 hours a week would be bringing in a little over $22,000 a year. That’s not too bad, but remember that under normal circumstances I would wait until I had about 14 emails and I imagine that rate would have been more than double.

So, if you would like some extra money and aren’t in a hurry (save it up for Christmas), this is an option.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:15-16

Edit: I realize that, for someone who enjoys SwagBucks, this post may come across offensive. That is not my intent. I wrote this post from the perspective of someone who is already busy with two kiddos and who once viewed SwagBucks solely as a way to earn extra money. SwagBucks just isn’t a second income. I found it was easy to get distracted on the site and neglect Lydia, and I did not earn very much extra money in the process. For those who do have the extra time or who enjoy SwagBucks as a hobby that also happens to earn some extra change, I hope you won’t be offended by these thoughts.

What to Say to a NICU Parent

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I’ve never been very good at knowing what to say to someone when they’re going through a hard time. After going through some hard times myself, I realize that I have probably very often said the “wrong thing”. Earlier this week I posted a Survival Guide for others who find themselves spending time in the NICU. But the reality is that most of the people reading this never have and never will spend any time in the NICU. However, everyone reading this knows of at least one person who has spent time in the NICU. This post is for all of you. I know my thoughts won’t apply to every NICU parents. So, based on my own experience and conversations with other NICU parent, but these are my best suggestions on what you can say (and do) to help a NICU parent.

As I wrote this, I wondered if I was going too far. Having a baby in the NICU is not the most difficult thing in the world. I know there are plenty who suffer far greater trials. However, I still felt the thoughts may be helpful to some. My husband pointed out that much of this could probably be applied to interactions with anyone who is suffering. If you think all this is a bit overboard, feel free the glean the good and forget the rest. And, keep in mind, not everyone is the same and I can only share from my own experiences and conversations with a few others.

“My heart just broke for you…”

What do you say to someone who just had a baby…months earlier than they were “supposed to”? “Congratulations”? “I’m sorry”? “She’ll be fine”? “She’ll be home before you know it”? Dan and I have found that there is very little you can say and be of any real comfort to a newly arrived NICU parent.

After Abby had spent two and a half months at the hospital, Dan was riding up the elevator one day with a crowd of people. One of the ladies in the elevator was in a wheelchair and it came up in conversation that she had just had a c-section and had been transferred straight to UofM with a baby who was now in the NICU. The others on the elevator started offering their support and encouragement.

“Don’t worry. She’ll be fine.”

“You’ll be home before you know it.”

“This is a great hospital.”

“What did you say?”, I asked Dan.

“Nothing. There’s nothing you can say. It wasn’t the right time.”

However, there was one conversation that stands out in my mind as being especially comforting. Lydia had just been born. I didn’t really want to talk to anyone. As we walked into church the following Sunday, I wanted to stay close to Dan and avoid all conversation. I was tired, sad, emotional, and still trying to grasp what was happening. Afterward, of course, people came up to talk to me. One mother at church approached me with tears in her eyes and said, “When I heard, my heart just broke for you…”. It was the most comforting thing anyone had every said to me.

Now, not everyone has the ability to sympathize in this way. Don’t fake it. If you’re able to honestly share in someone else’s suffering, by all means, offer your consolation. However, in many cases the best you can do is give a well-meaning hug.

Be Careful with Your Encouragement

I recently came across Proverbs 25:20. It says, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.”

For the most part, I will let that verse speak for itself. Someone who is separated from their tiny newborn baby will often have a “heavy heart”. Happy words may be just what they need to hear, or they may sting like icy wind on bare skin.

Ask Me about My Baby

It may seem like all I talk about is my baby. Maybe you think I get tired of giving everyone the same updates over and over. Maybe you think you should avoid the topic because it’ll make me sad.

But, please, do ask me about my baby. My baby is my life right now. I don’t have time for anything else. When my baby takes a step backwards, doesn’t have a good day, or isn’t making progress, my whole world feels a little cloudier. When my baby makes progress, gains weight, shows improvement, the sun comes out and I want everyone to know.

I know there is a whole world beyond the hospital and the universe doesn’t revolve around me (or my baby), but I don’t get to see that world right now. I will try hard to talk to you about all the other things, but the only thing on my mind lately, is that little one lying in a hospital room.

Please Be Patient

I may not seem myself. You just might see me cry. Or maybe I look weary. It’s a hard circumstance to be in the NICU for so long, so please be patient with me.

Please be patient with me if you are pregnant, especially once you hit nine months. I rejoice with you, but sometimes seeing a very pregnant mommy might make me tear up a little. Some good friends of ours had a baby when Abby was a month old. Their little boy was in church when he was only two days old and I cried every time I saw him.

I felt terrible. I was happy for them. But I could hardly talk to them because I would break down. It wasn’t until after Abby was home that I could cheerfully visit and hear all about their birth story and the early days with their newborn. I don’t know if they noticed or not, but I am grateful that they are sweet and patient people who weren’t offended by my distance during those first weeks of their own baby’s life.

If you are pregnant or have a newborn while a friend is in the NICU, be patient if they seem awkward or distant.

Ten Practical Helps

If you do know someone who has a baby in the NICU, you may be wondering what practical things you can do to help them beyond just words. So here are a few ideas:

1. Pray for them. No matter where you live, how much time or money you have, this is one way you can help

2. Do their laundry. They don’t have time.

3. Clean their bathroom. They don’t have time.

4. Wash their dishes. They don’t have time.

5. Do any other tidying or cleaning…I think you get the point here.

6. Bring them a hot meal, a frozen meal, a gift card, a snack…

7. Offer to buy and deliver their groceries. You don’t have to pay for them yourself, just picking them up and saving them the trip will go a very long way. You can give them a bagful of random groceries, or you can ask for a list. Either way, they will probably appreciate it more than they can express.

8. Watch their kiddos…although it’s likely that many will offer to babysit, so be creative and choose one of the above suggestions that hasn’t already been taken.

9. Ask if there is anything you can do to help or bless them. Everyone has individual needs.

10. Visit their baby or send a card or gift. Hospital visits can get long and lonely, you are probably a welcome visitor.

Well, I hope those thoughts are helpful and not offensive or out-of-hand. Dan and I were very blessed by many who did and said loving and encouraging things for us throughout our NICU stays, and we are immensely grateful. In fact, I feel we could never repay many for their sacrificial kindness. And Abby agrees.

Making Time for Messes and Munchkins

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Before Abby was home, I wondered, “Is it harder to have a baby in the NICU or to have a ‘newborn’ at home?”. The answer to that questions is definitely having a baby in the NICU.

However, it’s still hard to have a newborn at home. The primary difference is that, while living in NICU survival mode, we didn’t do anything but eat, sleep, and visit Abby. Now that we’re all together at home, we’re back to our usually activities: cleaning, laundry, exercising, keeping in touch with family and friends… And, to be completely honest, I just can’t keep up.

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Our Christmas tree is still up. I’ll excuse that by saying that my parents are coming this weekend to do our own little Christmas. But really, we just haven’t had a chance to take it down.

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We never finished moving in. A lot of generous people helped us move, unpack, and even organize. And in our four months in this apartment, I haven’t changed a thing. Our bedroom is a mess, and we can’t find the things we need when we need them. For a routine-thriving-place-for-everything mom like me, this gets really annoying. And I can’t keep up with the messes. I struggle to clean up Lydia’s messes. I struggle to clean up Abby’s messes. And I struggle to clean up Dan and My own messes. We have messes everywhere!!!

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But most of all, I can’t keep up with these little ones. With all my time going to the cleaning of messes and searching for missing items, I don’t get to spend much time with my girls.

For all of these reasons, and probably more, I will be cutting back on the blogging starting next week. Not a lot, but a little. For anyone who caught on to my pattern and checks this blog every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, please have patience. I’ll settle into a new pattern, probably twice a week. And with the extra time I’ll be tackling some of those messes and spending more time with our little munchkins.

NICU Survival Guide

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Now that we’ve had two babies spend time in the NICU (124 days between the two of them), I wanted to take some time to write a little guide for ourselves and anyone else who may find themselves spending any extended amount of time with a baby in the NICU.

Preparations

If you have a clue ahead of time that baby might come early, my best advice is to plan ahead as much as possible. Cook and freeze meals, the more, the better. Make sure you have everything prepared for when Baby comes home. Errands are no fun once Baby is born. Figure out a workable routine, find out if you (or your spouse ) can work from home, and set up any extra help or baby sitters.

When Baby Comes

When Baby is born, the first thing to do is take a deep breath and process a little. A new baby changes everything, but a new baby in the NICU really changes everything. Once you’ve had a chance to take a deep breath (and decide on a name!), it’s time to make some phone calls. Announcing the birth of you child is exciting and when Baby comes early it’s even more of a surprise to those on the other end of the line. When I called my mom to tell her that Lydia was born (nine weeks early), she answered the phone by saying, “What do you know about puppies?”. My sister’s new puppy had just hurt her foot and my mom was trying to decide if she needed to take her to the vet. It was pretty comical (later).

If your baby is healthy and doing well, considering the circumstances (just trust what the doctors tell you) make sure you start off every announcement with that information. And halfway through, you should say it again. And then, before you hang up or say goodbye, say it again. Most people don’t know much about premature babies. I certainly didn’t. And they don’t know how critical of condition your baby is actually in.

Believe the Doctors

The first question everyone has about a preemie is, “How long will we have to stay in the NICU?”. Doctors don’t like to give out false hope or unrealistic expectations, and their estimates are usually pretty good. For Lydia, they guessed 6-8 weeks, and she came home in 6. For Abby, they guessed 8-12 weeks, and she came home in 11 1/2.

However, both our girls started out fantastically. Every day we came in to hear praise about how well they were doing. We let it get to our heads and figured, surely, they would be home sooner than the original estimate. But the NICU is a roller coaster with unexpected turns, and both times the doctors were ultimately right. When I asked Dan what his best NICU advice was, it was to listen to the doctors estimate and don’t doubt it even if your baby seems to be doing amazing.

The First Week

The first week always feels like a whirlwind to us. First Baby comes, then there are announcements and visitors. You get to watch everyone’s reaction to your news and share your story. But after a couple of days, and you head home from the hospital, you have to get a plan together for how you’re going to handle your NICU stay. When Abby was born, both my parents and Dan’s parents came down at different times to watch Lydia and help around the house while I recovered. We would have completely fallen apart without that help.

During that week I sat down on Excel and figured out a tentative schedule that allowed us to visit Abby twice a day. We had to see if Dan could get in eight hours of work each day. It turns out he could, but only by working six days a week, getting up early, and going to bed late. If you do this, don’t forget to account for drive time. It was not uncommon for either Dan or I to spend over two hours in the car every day between driving to work, the hospital, home, and Lydia’s Babysitter’s.

Also during the first week, my parents took me grocery shopping. We stocked up on food for the next four weeks. I also got to ride around Meijer in one of their little electric scooters.

It’s OK to Cry

When I have babies in the NICU, I cry. I cry when they are admitted. I cry when they are not doing well. And I cry, even when they are. It’s sad. It’s hard. Your baby is supposed to be at home or in your belly. Not in an isolette. So it’s ok to cry.

I talked to a NICU mom once who had been in the NICU for two months already. They had a long road ahead and I empathized with her. She smiled and light-heartedly told me it was “sort of fun” to have a baby in the NICU. I hid my shock, but in my mid-NICU-super-emotional state, I felt like she had no heart.

I saw another Mom standing at her baby’s isolette, just watching her baby sleep. She was crying. I always liked that Mom after that, because it was so obvious how much she loved her baby boy.

Now, I’m all for having a good attitude and looking on the bright side. But you don’t have to pretend everything is perfect. It’s ok to cry.

Feeding Your Baby

Feeding times are the times you really want to be in the NICU. This is when you get to change your baby’s diaper, take your baby’s temperature, and, once your baby is stable enough, hold him or her. Once babies are over a week old, they usually have their feeding time every three hours.

Mothers of preemies aren’t able to nurse their babies so they have to express milk with a pump to be fed to their baby through a feeding tube. Lactations consultants recommend pumping every three hours, around the clock. I found that it works best to pump one hour after Baby’s feeding time, so that you can be involved with the hands-on part and not skip a pumping time. I also found that, once the milk supply is established and if it’s plentiful enough, it worked well to pump an hour early before bed and and hour late afterward so that you could have a couple of four hour stretches during the night.

Dan and I like to be at the hospital at least twice a day. This way we could each get a turn holding the Baby, and we could often be there for rounds. We got a morning update on how the night went and an evening update on how the day went.

What about Meals?

I’m sure a lot of NICU parents just eat out for every meal during their NICU stay. Dan and I avoided this for two reasons. One: it’s more expensive. Two: It’s much less healthy. And during the chaos of a NICU stay, eating junk won’t make things any better but it can make things a lot worse.

To handle this issue I made a meal plan of fast, easy-to-put-together meals for one week. We ate things like spaghetti, rice and beans, curry with a store-bought sauce, veggies and hummus, and chili (which was the most time consuming meal and I wouldn’t choose that one again). And we repeated it every week until Abby came home. We would go grocery shopping once a month or so to buy the non-perishables. For the fresh produce, we asked a family from church to buy our groceries once a week and deliver them to us at church. They graciously continued to do this for the entire time Abby was in the NICU.

We also had one night a week when we ate Qdoba using gift cards given to us by loving friends from church. Those nights were my favorite. No preparation and no clean up.

Babysitters

With Abby we had another challenge of taking a care of a toddler while visiting the NICU. It worked best for us to bring Lydia once a day and leave her with a sitter during our second visit. Our favorite way to do this was to take her in the morning. In the evening we would eat dinner together and tuck her into bed. Then the baby sitters would come and stay while Lydia slept and we went to the hospital. We had such loving sitters who also tidied our messy living room, cleaned our dishes, and did our laundry. Those nights were also my favorites.

We found that it was very important to spend one-on-one time with Lydia. Snuggling, reading, tickling, talking, and playing were very important because she was getting much less Mommy and Daddy time than before. Sometimes she would scream from her bed at night, but we realized it wasn’t because she was being “bad”, it was because she was having trouble coping with our being away so much. So on those nights I would snuggle her extra until she was ready to sleep.

Get to Know Parents and Nurses

One of the most therapeutic things Dan and I chose to do was to make friends in the NICU. Time in the NICU passes slowly, but having another baby to cheer on helps a lot. Talking to other parents is encouraging, distracting, and helps pass the days. We had a lot of fun celebrating when our friends would move to an open crib or take their first bottle.

It also helps to make friends with the nurses. They are the people you’ll see the most and they are the ones caring for your (very) little bundle. It’s a lot better to have friends watch your baby than strangers. We also discovered that nurses which we didn’t care for at first, grew on us as we got to know them.

Once we transferred to Mott’s, we had trouble getting to know our nurses. It was just a less-friendly atmosphere. So we made an extra effort and brought them chocolate. That helped a lot. We also befriended Russell, the parking lot attendant.

Take Naps

The house is trashed. The sink is full of dishes. The laundry isn’t folded. Take a nap.

Someone just called your phone. A delivery man knocked on the door. You didn’t get to shower today. Take a nap anyway.

Some things just have to wait. Sleep isn’t one of them. Life in the NICU is hard enough without being exhausted. And, even with naps you’re still not going to get enough sleep, so take them!

Turn to Jesus

Even if you follow all of my NICU advice and think of fifteen other helpful things, having a baby in the NICU is still rough. Our greatest source of strength and hope rested in Jesus Christ. God is, after all, the Great Physician, and even if doctors fail, He never will. He knit together that Baby in Mom’s womb, and He can keep knitting that Baby together out of it.

Many times, I felt like everything was falling apart, and I didn’t even know what to pray. But I remember riding in the car, looking up at the night sky and silently crying out, “Help me! Help us! We need Your help!” Sometimes the change wasn’t instant, but He always came. He always helped.

Times when I felt so down I knew no one could offer me any comfort and He would. Through a song in the car, through a sermon at church, or through some unexpected blessing, He would carry us along.

The Roller Coaster Must End Sometime

There were times when I seriously thought Abby would never come home from the hospital. I thought she would just stay there forever, not finishing her bottles, not gaining weight, not keeping her temperature up. It’s silly, I know. But that’s how it felt.

Life in the NICU is a roller coaster ride. There are unexpected turns, and many ups and downs. But, the roller coaster will end. There will be a time when you will stop taking those car rides to the hospital every day. There will be a day when you have time to wash your own dishes and do your own grocery shopping. It’s true, what they say, that there are no kindergarteners in the NICU.

I hope this post will be useful for some. Or perhaps it can give others a glimpse into NICU life. And if not, thanks for bearing with me. If Dan and I have another baby I know that we will, at least, find this to be a great help.

Abby Update: 4 Months

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Weight: 8 pounds, 9 ounces

Tomorrow Abby will be four months old. In the 82 days she spent in the NICU, she gained a total of 2 pounds, 13 ounces. In the 41 days she has spent at home she has gained 2 pounds, 13 ounces, exactly the same amount of weight in half the time. I thought that was pretty cool.

Abby is doing great. She eats about every three hours, but recently started sleeping about 5-6 hours at night. In the mornings she likes to sit with Dan as he works for an hour or two from home before going in to work (to avoid traffic).

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During the day Abby mostly just sleeps. She started smiling a couple of weeks ago and is her smiliest early in the morning. During the evening she has another “awake time” but that one is usually not a very smiley time for her. She loves to be held as much as possible and worn in a wrap with Mommy during the day.

We have come up with a lot of nicknames for Abby. Aborigine, Aboriginal, Abbs, Munchkin 2, and the most recent: Abigus. Abigus originated when Dan put her swaddle on like toga one morning. Super cute.

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See? Abby’s favorite way to play is when we poke her in the nose. Dan figured that one out, but I’m not sure how. If Abby’s in a decent mood, that’s the best way to get a smile out of her.

DIY: Homemade Herbal Tea Bags

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As I’ve mentioned in other posts, the Taylor family decided to do all homemade gifts this year. For Dan’s Dad, we decided to make homegrown herbal tea. Way back in the spring time we bought a couple of herbs: peppermint and lemon balm. Despite our frequent moves and time in the hospital we managed to grow and harvest enough to make enough tea bags for one Christmas gift. If we’d been more diligent about harvesting our plants, or if we’d had better growing conditions, I’m sure we could have made a lot more.

The first step, once the plants were growing well, was to harvest the leaves periodically. I snipped off shoots and leaves with some kitchen scissors and set them on cookie sheets to air dry. You could also use a dehydrator, the oven, or hang them upside-down in brown paper bags, but I chose the lazy way.

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By December I had a nice collection of dry leaves. It only took me one night to put them all together, although it was a late night. I made ten tea bags and it probably took a couple of hours. To make your own tea bags, you’ll need:

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-herbs of your choice (I used lemon balm and peppermint)
-coffee filters
-scissors
-mortar and pestle (optional, totally unnecessary)
-sewing machine (also optional, but speeds up the process considerably)
-white thread
-card stock
-sewing needle
-scissors

I smashed my leaves up up in a mortar and pestle, but you could also just use your fingers.

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Next I cut out my tea bags from coffee filters. I took apart a store-bought tea bag and cut my own to match, but you could just eyeball it. The exact dimensions aren’t extremely important.

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Now fold your coffee filter in half, hotdog style, and line up your edges. Don’t flatten the fold down, because this is just a temporary fold. Sew with a 1/4 inch seam all the way across. Trim your thread.

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Next you’ll open up the tea bag and fold it with the seam on top.

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Flatten your seam open.

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Was that too confusing? Here’s a picture that shows the process, top to bottom:

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Now for the fun part! Fill your tea bag.

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I found the best way to do this was to pour about half a tea spoon in to the tea bag, shake it down toward to bottom (pinch the end so none falls out), then pour the second half in. This way the tea is distributed throughout the tea bag, which is important because the next step is to fold your tea bag in half, hotdog style this time.

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Looking good, right? Now, you’re going to fold down your corners and the top opening as seen here:

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Back to the sewing machine, if you’re using one, for the tea bag string. Start in the center on top of the tea bag and sew down a few stitches. Don’t forget to backstitch here too. Then pause with your needle all the way down. Rotate the tea bag 180 degrees and sew back up.

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I actually had a friend cut out and make my labels from card stock. These are the little tabs that hang off the end of the tea bags. I copied the store-bought tea bag method of attaching these but it was unnecessary. You can just tie them on, but for completeness I’ll show you what I did:

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Tie a knot where you want the tag to rest. There’s my knot:

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Cut a small notch in your tea bag tag.

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Then thread one strand of the thread you just knotted into your needle. That’s only one strand, not both. Poke your needle carefully through a little bit below the notch you just made.

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Pull all the way through until your knot is resting against the tab. Pull the other thread down through your notch and tie the two strands together. Trim your extra thread.

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I put mine in a couple of little magnetic tins with their labels showing:

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And there you have it. Homegrown, homemade tea bags, start to finish.

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Bedtime Moments

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I had no idea what a major transition it would be to move Lydia into a “big girl bed”. It’s not that she gets out of bed now. We were pleasantly surprised when Lydia learned her very first night that she can’t just get out of bed whenever she wants. No, the major transition is that Lydia is becoming a very big girl.

One of the perks to tucking Lydia in at night now is that one of us can lie down with her for a while. Usually Dan stays with her for a few songs on the cd we play for her as she falls asleep. A few nights ago, however, Dan told me I could stay with her.

“Mommy come? No room?” Lydia would ask and I said, “Nope, I’m going to lay down with you for a while.” She snuggled up next to me, stuck her thumb in her mouth, and grabbed onto my hair with her free hand. She asked me to put the “baseball blanket” on her and the “pink one” on myself. We sang and hummed some songs. Then we started chatting.

When Abby was in the hospital a couple of different people from church would stay at our house some nights while Lydia slept. Even though we tucked her in before we left, she still knew that we were leaving. By December she was no longer happy when Mommy and Daddy left. So after Abby came home Lydia would often ask at bedtime, “Mommy, Daddy stay?” with excitement in her voice. Sometimes she still does.

As we lay in her big girl bed she asked me again, “No leaving? Mommy stay?”.

“Yep, we’re staying here tonight. We’re not leaving.”

Lydia smiled a satisfied smile and stuck her thumb back in her mouth. “Mommy tired?”, she asked me.

“No, but Mommy has a headache.”

We had a short conversation about my headache and what I was planning to do after I left Lydia’s room. One of the things I told her was that Dan would probably rub my shoulders, because that helps my head stop hurting. I showed her what it meant to rub someone’s shoulders. Lydia listened intently, all the while holding my hair and sucking her thumb. When I’d finished, she reached up with both hands and started to rub my shoulders.

After I left the room I couldn’t help thinking that, when Lydia grows up and moves out, these are going to be the moments I miss the most.